Statement by UN Women Executive Director for the International Day of UN Peacekeepers

Shaping the women, peace and security agenda with more women in the ranks

Around the world women are playing active roles in the peace and security sector, negotiating ceasefires, civilian safe zones, fighter demobilization and humanitarian access at the local level, or drawing up protection plans at the community level. But when we hear the tales of war, women and girls are not typically the heroes that are mentioned. Yet, they are exactly the heroes that we need, working equally alongside men, in security forces, at negotiating tables and keeping the peace in local communities to bring about a more peaceful and equal future for all. I have met with many dynamic and committed female peacekeepers who have shared their stories, as well as their strategies for recruiting more women like them into UN peacekeeping forces.

Women peacekeepers can help tackle critical issues, such as helping to make the peacekeeping force approachable to women in the community, interacting with women in societies where they are prohibited from speaking to men, and addressing the specific needs of female ex-combatants as they reintegrate into civilian life. Because women peacekeepers are often seen as less threatening and more accessible than their male counterparts, local communities tend to better accept peacekeeping missions that include women. Their presence can help to reduce conflict and confrontation, lower incidences of sexual exploitation and abuse and encourage the reporting of any abuse that does occur. Women in uniform can also be powerful role models for women and girls in places where many police forces and militaries need more female recruits.

But the numbers of female recruits have grown extremely slowly. Right now, the proportion of women is just 4.4 per cent of deployed military peacekeepers; and for police it is 14 per cent. This means that we are missing a vital opportunity for women’s meaningful contribution to peace. We are determined to work with partners to change the look and feel of security institutions and overturn the stereotypes about who belongs there.

Since 2015, UN Women has led a two-week training programme to help prepare female officers for deployment as military staff officers and observers. Funded by the Governments of the Netherlands, Norway, Australia, Japan and Finland, the course has trained over 400 women from countries around the world, directly supporting women’s increased roles in peace and security. The newly launched Elsie Initiative Fund for Uniformed Women in Peace Operations, a multi-partner trust fund, is designed to encourage and support UN Member States to increase the number of women in police and military services and in peacekeeping deployed in UN peace operations. And this month, in Abu Dhabi, I had the pleasure of congratulating the first graduate cohort of the Military Training for Arab Women. This new programme, which we supported in partnership with the UAE’s Ministry of Defense and General Women’s Union, brought together 134 Arab women from seven countries—Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, UAE and Yemen—for a three-month basic military training followed by two weeks of peacekeeping training. They left with foundational skills in peacekeeping and conflict resolution, and a peer-to-peer network. We hope that other countries will follow this lead.

Each of these efforts show how much can be achieved with new ways of looking at the problem, strong political will and strategic partnerships.

This year, on the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, as we mark 70 years of the UN Peacekeeping programme, and look ahead to 20 years of implementing Security Council resolution 1325, and 25 years of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we celebrate those who have bravely served in these ranks. These anniversaries challenge us to shape the women, peace and security agenda with new commitments and priorities, acknowledging what steps are still needed to ensure more equal opportunities for women in the peace and security sector, and through accelerated partnership and action, creating a better future for women, girls and entire communities.